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By George! The “Star Tours” Saga: Episode Two

It’s a race for space as Disney Productions executives dither over whether their studio should actually put “Space Probe One”into production, while George Lucas basically wills his “Journal of the Whills” project into existence.

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It’s another one of those great Hollywood “What If.”

What if … George Lucas had actually been able to do what he wanted to do back in 1970? Which was acquire the movie rights to Alex Raymond’s “Flash Gordon” comic strip. Would there even be a “Star Wars” film series today if George had actually been able to produce his dream project? Which was to do a big screen remake of one of those “Flash Gordon” serials from the 1930s.

Sadly, when Lucas started making inquiries, he discovered that someone else had already acquired the “Flash Gordon” feature films rights. (“Who had those rights?,” you ask. Would you believe legendary Italian film-maker Federico Fellini?

That’s right. The genius who brought us “La Strada ” and “La Dolce Vita” harbored a secret desire to make a “Flash Gordon” movie. Unfortunately, Federico was never actually able to get his “Flash” feature off the ground. Which is why Fellini eventually sold off the “Gordon” film rights to another Italian movie-making legend, producer Dino De Lautentis. Who — hoping to cash in on the “Star Wars” craze — produced 1980’s “Flash Gordon“movie. And the less said about this Universal Studios release, the better … Anyway …)

So — seeing as the “Flash Gordon” film rights weren’t available — Lucas then decided to create his own space-based movie. Something that was clearly inspired by the movie serials of the 1930s.

So — starting in February 1972 — George picked up a pen and started writing. Eventually he produced a 13-page treatment for a proposed science fiction feature that was called … Well, how’s this for an ungainly title: “The Adventures of Luke Starkiller as taken from the ‘Journal of the Whills’ — Saga One: Star Wars.” Kind of a mouthful, don’t you think?

As he was getting “American Graffiti” ready for release, Lucas began showing this treatment around town. But — to be honest — no one knew quite what to make of this “Star Wars” thing. First United Artists passed on the project, followed by Universal Studios (Which really rubbed George the wrong way. Why For? Because Universal was the studio that would soon be releasing “American Graffiti.” So — seeing as that studio passed on the chance to produce Lucas’s next picture — what did that say about what Universal thought about “American Graffiti”? Anywho …)

‘Why were so many supposedly smart studio heads turning down ‘Star Wars’?,” you query. Well, let’s remember that these folks weren’t actually seeing a full-blown script for what would eventually become “A New Hope.” But — rather — a 13-page treatment that featured virtually incomprehensible character descriptions like:

… Mace Windu, a revered Jedi-bendu of Opuchi who was related to Usby C. J. Thape, padawaan learner to the famed Jedi.”

And then there was “Star Wars” ‘s proposed storyline. Which featured this rather simplistic set of heroes & villains, daring-do and magic. To many of the executives who read this treatment, it seemed like Lucas was deliberately trying to make a kid’s flick. That goofy sort of adventure that Walt Disney Productions specialized in producing.

Which — to be honest — is exactly what George was up to. As he explained once in a 1980s-era interview:

“When I did ‘Graffiti,” I discovered that making a positive movie was exhilarating. I thought, Maybe I should make a film like this for even younger kids. ‘Graffiti’ was for sixteen-year-olds, this was for ten- and twelve-year-olds who have lost something even more significant than the teenager.

I saw kids today don’t have any fantasy life the way we had – they don’t have Westerns, they don’t have pirate movies … the real Errol Flynn, John Wayne kind of adventures. Disney had abdicated its reign over the children’s market, and nothing had replaced it.”

Okay. Now you’ll have to admit that that’s a little bizarre. But wait. It gets even weirder.

Just as  Lucas is walking around Hollywood, trying to find some studio head who’ll be brave enough to put his faux “Flash Gordon” film in production … George learns that Walt Disney Productions is also considering putting its own ambitious space-based adventure before the cameras.

Don’t believe me? Okay. Then check out this description of the proposed production from Disney’s 1974 annual report:

Winston Hibler has begun work on the next epic adventure to be filmed by the Disney Studios, “Space Station 1.” Set in the year 2016, the project will call upon the organization’s talents in special effects to capture on film the perils of a sophisticated space station which is virtually torn apart by a supra nova shock and is being drawn toward a “black hole” in space.

“Who’s Winston Hibler?,” you query. Well, Hibler was a longtime Disney employee. Hib (as he was affectionately known around the studio lot) came on board at the Mouse Factory back in 1942, when Winston scripted & directed a number of those service training films that Disney produced during the war years. Once WW II was over, Hibler stayed on at the studio — helping to write such Disney animated classics as “Cinderella,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Peter Pan.”

Winston had a knack for solving severe story problems for the studio’s animated features. But what he really excelled at was the creation of live action motion pictures for Walt Disney Productions to release. Starting out as a writer on the studio’s “True Life Adventures” films series (FYI: Hib was also the narrator of many of these Academy Award winning featurettes), he eventually worked his way up through the ranks to become one of Walt’s right-hand men on the lot.

During the early 1960s, Hibler co-produced such popular Walt Disney Productions’ releases as 1962’s “Big Red,” 1965’s “The Ugly Dachshund” and 1966’s “Follow Me, Boys.” Following Walt’s death in December 1966, Winston became — along with Bill Walsh — one of the most seasoned producers that Disney Productions had.

As the 1960s gave way to the 1970s, Hib helped the Mouse Factory produce such memorable pictures like 1970’s “The Aristocats,” 1972’s “Napoleon & Samantha” and 1974’s “The Island at the Top of the World.”

It was on the heels of “Islands” ‘s December 1974 release (Which many critics — perhaps unfairly — called a pale imitation of an earlier, better Walt Disney Productions’ release, 1954’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea“) that Winston reportedly went to then-Disney president Card Walker and said: “We have to stop imitating ourselves here. It’s time to do what Walt really would have done. Which is not authorize production of yet another ‘Herbie’ sequel. But do something truly daring & original.”

The film that Hibler had in mind was based on an unpublished story by Bob Barbash & Richard Landau. A set-in-outer-space epic adventure that Winston hoped would really break the mold at the Mouse Factory. Not be another one of those cookie-cutter comedies that the studio seemed to continually churn out in the late 1960s & early 1970s. But a project that would truly challenge Walt Disney Productions.

As you might expect, Card (who was — by nature — a very cautious man) was extremely reluctant to allow WDP to tackle a project that was as ambitious as “Space Station One” was. I mean, just the projected production cost of this proposed science-fiction feature were enough to give Disney’s studio head pause.

But — that said — Walker did allow Hibler to officially begin development of “Space Station One.” Just so Card could at least get a sense of what the final film might look like. Which explains why this much more detailed description of the project appeared in Walt Disney Productions’ 1975 annual report:

“Space Station One,” now in long-range planning for production in 1977, will be our most ambitious live-action feature to date. In this truly fantastic science-fiction story, co-produced by Winston Hibler, an incredible robot joins in the daring rescue of the personnel aboard a doomed Earth station, which is steadily being drawn into a black hole in outer space. The film will provide a very special challenge to the studio’s talented special effects department.

Please note the last line of the above paragraph. That’s going to seem particularly ironic when we finally get around to tomorrow’s installment of the “Star Tours” saga … Anyhow …

So here’s Card Walker dithering about whether he should allow Winston Hibler to put “Space Station One” into production. Which is really unfortunate. For — if Card had actually allowed Hib to fast-track this project — Disney’s “Space Station One” might have beaten George Lucas’s “Star Wars” into theaters. Which means that the Mouse would have been seen as a leader of the 70’s sci-fi movie trend, rather than as just another follower.

Sadly, Walker just couldn’t bring himself to greenlight “Space Station One.”  At least not in the mid-1970s. So — as development work on this Winston Hibler production moved along at a glacial pace over at Disney — 20th Century Fox production exec Alan Ladd (based solely on Ladd’s personal reaction to an early cut of “American Grafitti” that he had seen) tentatively offers to produce George Lucas’s next picture. You know, that “Adventures of Luke Starkiller” thing?
 
Mind you, Ladd didn’t actually offer Lucas an official contract. But — rather — just a deal memo. And it will take many more months of meetings with Alan (More importantly, Fox’s attorneys) before George finally gets an official “Go” on “Star Wars.”

“What’s the hold-up?,” you ask. To put it bluntly, the studio’s legal department just didn’t know what to make of Lucas. This man just didn’t behave like other film-makers did.

How so? Well, take — for example — what happened when Fox’s attorneys tried to establish what sort of fee George should be paid for directing “Star Wars.” Based on how well “American Graffitit” did during its initial theatrical release, Ladd authorized the studio’s lawyers to up Fox’s offer from $100,000 to $400,000 for Lucas’s directorial services.

Now a normal movie director — when offered a 400% increase in their helming fee — would have immediately taken the money and run. But not George.

Which was Fox’s attorneys are absolutely flabbergasted when they heard Lucas’s counter-offer. While Ladd’s offer of additional money to direct “Star Wars” was flattering, George would agree to forego the fee increase IF Fox agreed to give him the rights to the following items instead:

  • “Star Wars” soundtrack
  • All sequel rights to the film
  • All merchandise rights to the movie

Happy to save the studio some money, Fox’s lawyers immediately agreed to George’s proposal … But then came away from that meeting with the “Star Wars” director thinking that they were dealing with an absolute madman.

I mean, what was the point of Lucas retaining the rights to make merchandise based on a movie that most Fox execs thought would turn out to be just a bad imitation of a Walt Disney Productions release? After all, who was ever going to want to buy “Star Wars” toys?

Actually, George was hoping that at least a few kids would want “Star Wars” toys. And as for his “Journal of the Whills” project seeming like something Disney should make, Lucas all but admitted as such to film-maker John Milius. George — when he described “Star Wars” to John — once supposedly said:

“… This is a Disney movie. All Disney movies make $16 million, so this picture is going to make $16 million. It cost ten, so we’re going to lose some money on the release, but I hope to make some of it back on the toys.”

Pretty bizarre, don’t you think?

Sooo … Just to recap: As 1975 draws to a close, we have Card Walker still hemming & hawing over whether he should allow Winston Hibler to actually put “Space Station One” into production. While George Lucas seems positively eager to get to the seemingly impossible task of turning his space-based fantasy into a really-for-real motion picture.

But now the big question was: How was Lucas ever going to pull off all of those out-of-this-world special effects that would eventually help “A New Hope” wow movie-goers? (FYI: This same question was also supposedly one of the main reasons that Card wouldn’t allow Hib to begin production of “Space Station One.” Walker reportedly didn’t think that Disney’s special effects wizards were actually up to the challenges of this particular production)

The answer to many of “Star Wars” ‘s special effects problems actually turned out to be a guy who worked in Disney’s matte department. A man I’ll introduce you to tomorrow …

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  ExpertGriller.com prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont

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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage

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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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